Riding Guns Blazing While Getting A Farmers Tan

Welcome to Save State, where you can master your blaster to beat games much faster. In the last couple of weeks I discovered that, at some point, I purchased Blaster Master Zero II and its DLC, but never downloaded or played it. Rectifying this mistake, I immediately sank my teeth into the sequel of one of the more entertaining games that I played in 2017.

For those unaware, the Blaster Master series is a mixture of 2D platforming and top-down shooting. You control the pilot and your tank in the side-scrolling mode of the game- the tank is armored and can take numerous hits, jump high, and has a powerful cannon, but you can hop out of your tank to crawl into small gaps or climb ladders you normally wouldn’t be able to drive through with the tank. Upon reaching caves too small for the tank to enter, you enter a top-down shooting mode where you maneuver the pilot and defeat mutants, acquiring new weapons, health and energy power-ups, access keys, and more to help you progress through the game. As a pilot you typically don’t move very quickly, and if you take hits as a pilot you lose weapon levels for your gun, which means things can snowball into a downward spiral that brings you a swift death, so “brute forcing” boss encounters isn’t exactly very effective.

Blaster Master Zero II retains almost all of what made previous Blaster Master games alluring, and expands it with new mechanics, characters, and story beats that are a direct consequence of the final battle of the first game (you don’t specifically have to play Zero 1 to understand the story, though, since this is a retro revival game the plot is pretty easily understood). Jason, the main protagonist of Blaster Master Zero, has to embark on a dangerous journey across different galaxies in order to save his support droid Eve from a mutant infection. Along the way you will battle large and tricky mutants and other tank pilots as you jump from sector to sector of space.

Zero II leans a bit more into Metroidvania-style elements in that acquiring new power-ups may require you return to a previously visited planet in order to unlock even more map locations, items that boost health or energy reserves, and more. There are multiple planets you visit in different sectors throughout the game, and on each you’ll find coordinates that let you find orbiting planetoids you can land on to explore and acquire even more goodies, and there are even a few side quests you can do which can change which ending you receive upon defeating the final boss.

Some of the new weapons you find may be extremely situational, like the drill you can use to break through large, black rocks you otherwise wouldn’t be able to break. The drill sub weapon can be wonderful for killing minor enemies who are so small they can move right under your primary cannon’s blasts, but using it against bosses is typically a fool’s errand as you’ll drill into the boss and immediately lose some health. Some sub weapons are valuable for combat, while others aid best in exploration, but you’ll absolutely need to use all of the tools available to you in order to finish the game.

Using the hover function or the sub weapons while in the tank’s side-scrolling exploration mode consumes an energy meter at the top of the screen, and if you use all of it up, then you’re not able to hover or fire a sub weapon until it completely refills. The tank’s energy refills proportionately to kinetic energy hitting the tank- jumping from high areas refills your reserves, but taking hits can also fill it in a pinch, too. Carefully managing your resources is important, because if you use too much of the meter you can be left without any energy during important moments when you have to eat multiple hits before you can try to jump or hover away. While in the top-down segments controlling Jason, you have the same gun levels as in previous games with new sub weapons like proximity mines, but you also get a delightful set of counter attacks that let you retaliate against enemies with a paralyzing shot, devastating melee attack, or a reflector field that sends enemy bullets back at the attackers.

Some of the bosses in Zero II are quite difficult. Save points are pretty frequent, but one particular boss in top-down mode against another tank pilot took probably 3 attempts to learn how exactly to avoid each attack, and then on the third attempt I managed to clear it with no damage at all- I guess knowing is half the battle, thanks GI Joe! One particular boss toward the end of the game is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve ever played, combining boss self-healing and immunity phases, two of my most hated mechanics. The worst part is that the fight itself wasn’t that difficult, just insanely time consuming- the minions the boss summoned dropped health refills so often that there was never any danger in losing anything other than my patience. Outside of that one boss, however, there’s really nothing to complain about- Zero II is an insanely competent retro revival that hits almost all the right notes. Exploration, shooting, even challenge is equally represented in a fairly cheap package for how much you get out of it. Also, the DLC lets you play as Copen from Azure Striker Gunvolt 2, with all of his air dashing mechanics present, making the game ludicrously fun to replay, as well.

So, the next game I was going to look at this week was going to be something political, but then I realized I’m absolutely terrible at Tropico and most flavor of the month politics games are… well, worse than how I play Tropico. While wondering what I should next put my energy into, my wife grabbed her Switch and said, “Didn’t you say something about Stardew Valley being a multiplayer game now?” and thus we played that for hours on end.

If you’ve never played multiplayer in Stardew Valley, it’s actually quite easy. You’ll have to make a new save, especially if you haven’t played for a while, and while you’re selecting options for your farm there will be an option to add cabins, which is where your friends will stay while playing in your game. The cabins are very much like the Tardis- smaller on the outside than the inside, especially once they upgrade their houses. In multiplayer, the game pretty much plays as normal- you plant and care for your crops and animals, fish, forage resources, foster relationships with the townspeople, explore and mine, and more. My wife and I happened to divvy up our farming tasks, so she cares for the crops and animals while I run off to mine and fish, or take things to complete the community center.

The largest difference between regular solo Stardew Valley play and cooperative play is that the timer never stops when the game is paused. Similarly, all parties have to agree when to sleep to the next day- if someone lays down early a notification like, “Wife hit the sack early” will pop up in the lower left corner, letting you know that you’re holding up the other player who is likely out of stamina and is now bored, resigning herself to the soul-sucking void that is social media while she waits. You could be conscientious and rush back home, or you could continue digging for another 20 floors- a real, “I can be your angle… or yuor devil” situation. Players pretty much share the same space, so tilling soil, planting crops, picking up and moving your furniture weird places can also be amusing. Yes, I did go into your house and plant a giant statue in front of your door while you were using the bathroom; you’re welcome.

There’s the occasional hiccup in multiplayer- the game may lag for a second or two for the host at times, but apparently this isn’t felt by the other players at all. Also, since the multiplayer component is drop in/drop out, your friends can see you online and join your farm, grab a whole bunch of wood, craft 50 storage crates and fill every square of your house with boxes, then leave. Multiplayer being so easy to drop in and out and return right to what you were doing is a great luxury though, as if I want to play with my wife we can sit down and play, and if she has to do something, I can continue to play while she exits the game and comes back at a later time- it’s pretty nice.

For the most part, you play Stardew Valley as you normally would, accepting the fact that people may randomly join and move your furniture around if you have tricksters on your Switch friends list. If you enjoy the gameplay loop of farming and foraging to build up money and upgrade tools, your home, and buy appliances that make caring for crops and animals easier like the various Sprinklers, then playing Co-op mode in Stardew Valley is a wonderful time because now you’re able to share it with friends. Is it meaningfully different from solo? Not really, but it doesn’t need to be since the core gameplay is both addictive and comforting. Also, you can marry other players- you don’t need to wife Haley again, you can actually propose to your IRL significant other, though it does require one of the rarest items in the game (Prismatic Shard) so you can use the rarity of the item as an excuse for why you want to marry Haley for the third time, too.

That said, this week’s Save State is now coming to a close. We’ll meet back here in two weeks and discuss plans for taking over the world- or at least the borderlands. Or maybe we’ll just watch The Boys and pass out on the couch, there honestly is no telling at this point; the future is ours for the wasting!


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